How to Spot a Well-Made Watch

When you're choosing a watch, it's important to look past the aesthetic and pay close attention to the components. It's the components and the construction that make the difference between a throwaway watch that will fall apart after a few months, and a solidly-built watch that will look and work great for years, if not decades.

Tip #1: A high price does not mean high quality

Price tags don’t always tell the whole story.

A watch brand can make a quartz watch for as cheap as $10. At that price, it’s a safe bet that the quality of the parts are going to be low. It’s nearly impossible to find world class parts for the price of two lattes at Starbucks.

Brands can choose to sell this cheapie watch for $50, which at ~4-5x, is the typical retail markups for these watches.

Or they could really push it with a markup as high as 20x, making that $10 watch now $200+.

It seems pretty insane that pricing can be so disconnected from quality, but this is how the industry works. In fact, some trendy watch brands are making a killing selling cheapie watches for $250 -- and their customers are none the wiser.

Conclusion: you really need to dig deeper to understand what you're getting for your money.

Tip #2: Look for sapphire crystal (not mineral!)

The crystal is the transparent covering over the watch face. Most watches produced nowadays have a crystal made of mineral or sapphire.

Mineral crystal scratches easily yet is highly shatter resistant.

Sapphire crystal is highly scratch resistant but not as shatter resistant as mineral glass.

scratched mineral glass

A typical experience with mineral glass -- it gets scratched!

Sapphire crystal glass is more desirable in the vast majority of cases because of its scratch resistance. True, it may be less shatter resistant than mineral glass, but this is irrelevant unless you plan to drive a car over your watch

Scratch resistance matters though: through day-to-day use you'll probably swipe a wall with your watch or at some point even drop it on the ground.

With a mineral glass you'll get unsightly scratch marks that you'll be reminded of every time you glance at your watch. Sure, you can replace mineral glass if it gets scratched -- and the watch is designed to be repairable -- but it's a pain. If you're investing in a watch, you may well get a good piece of sapphire that solves that problem and looks brand new for years and years.

Sapphire crystal is much more expensive than mineral glass, and brands that are really serious about quality only use sapphire crystal.

In our opinion it’s practically sinful to make watches with cheap mineral glass -- a few dollars extra in production cost makes the difference between a disposable, high-maintenance accessory and one that will look great for decades.

Tip #3: Check the movement

The movement is the engine of the watch that drives the hands around the dial and powers the watch's other functions (e.g. calendar, chronograph function, etc.). But all movements are not made equal. A good movement will keep time reliably; a badly made one will not. This is known as “losing time”, where a watch with a bad movement has tick speeds that are inconsistent. A bad watch can lose minutes a day.

Swiss, Japanese and German movement makers have the best reputations whether it’s for automatic or quartz movements. They lead the industry in innovation. Some of the most well-known Swiss movement makers are Ronda (particularly for quartz movements), ETA and Sellita. In Japan you have Seiko, Miyota and Citizen, etc. There's also a number of independent movement makers, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.

However, as with any "Made in" designation, it's impossible to say, "all movements from [country] are good". Any country has good suppliers, not-so-good suppliers, and downright bad suppliers. Best is to ask who the manufacturer is for the particular model and do some searching for yourself online.

Swiss Ronda quartz movement

The front and back of a quartz movement from the Swiss company Ronda. Source: ronda.ch

Tip #4: Check the leather

Block: Text

If the watch comes with a leather band, check how the leather is described.

"Full grain" is the highest quality of leather -- it means that the leather retains its top layer, the most durable part of the hide. Only the highest quality of hides can be used for full grain leather.

A step down in quality is "top grain", where they use lower-quality hides with a lot of imperfections and defects, and scrub off the top layer. In any kind of "embossed leather" a pattern is then printed on the skin. Ever heard of "pebble grain" and "saffiano"? These are types of top grain leather.

Even worse than "top grain" leather is "genuine leather". It sounds like an innocent term that verifies that it's real leather (vs fake leather) -- but it's actually an industry term used for the layers of the hide that remain after the top part is split off for higher grade leather. The fibres here are very loose, making for a not-so-strong leather that will hold its shape purely.

Full grain leather ages nicely and is the most durable. It's unlikely to rip or disintegrate in the same way that a top grain or genuine leather strap will.

Most leather bands are made of top grain and genuine leather. If you're paying a pretty penny for a watch, it would be worthwhile to check what quality of leather you are paying for.

To learn more about leather, view the Our Leather section on our website.

Tip #5: The devil is in the details

Examine the watch carefully for others signs of cut corners in materials and workmanship.

Here are a few details that betray a watch that hasn't been made with high quality standards:

- Sharp points on the watch case (the metal "body" of the watch)
- Plastic spacers between the glass and the dial
- Uneven brushing (if the watch has a brushed finish)
- Unexpectedly light in weight (it could mean that they've skimped on materials)

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